An interesting thing happened to me last week. You see, I was in the middle of reading a piece by a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist on “social distancing,” the latest add on to COVID-19 discourse these days, when the columnist, an acknowledged introvert, alluded to another writer he’d recently interviewed for his story; Susan Cain, author, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.”
Now raise your hand if you an extrovert or an introvert? Go ahead, nobody’s looking. How are you faring in home confinement these days if you’re one or the other? And if you are closed in with someone opposite your style, how’s that going for ya?
During the interview, Cain, an introvert, said she’s working on a new book. “All my life, I have always done my writing in cafes which, for me, is a daily joy. To be able to go to the cafe, sit with my latte by a sunny window and feel the energy of friendly people around me while I go into my own world and write. It’s just an incredible creative stimulus for me and a deep pleasure. And obviously, that is no longer for the foreseeable future. There are some ways in which this is much easier for me than it would be for an extrovert because I’m a homebody to begin with. I don’t feel the pull to go out every night. But it’s not like it’s a picnic for me, either.”
Shucks, the Prize winner could well have interviewed me, an introvert, and heard basically the same thing since my experiences mirror Cain’s in many respects. You see, when my neighborhood Starbucks, the one I’ve been going to (and writing in) over the past five years, closed its doors because of COVID-19, my routine spiraled into a “I don’t know what the heck to do with myself now” meltdown.
“That’s a real loss,” Susan Cain said about being denied trips to the café. “I don’t mean to overstate it, compared to some of the other losses happening around us now. I’m just saying that there are ways in which even if you lead a quieter existence, you’re still having some degree of choice taken away from you in some of your daily pleasures.”
A true confession. I still get up in the morning as always, often headed to the grocery store to reload on food, strap on a mask like I’ve been advised to do and drive in the direction of that Starbucks while wishing and hoping that one day soon the parking lot would again be full, inside lights on, the green apron-clad cashiers would be as busy as ever and customers I’d gotten used to seeing had all returned from their involuntary hiatus.
But in the meantime, what do we do now about the diverging needs of extroverts and introverts housed under the same roof? How do we balance the needs of the extroverts on one side who may be suddenly cut off from their lifeblood of face to face access to other people, the ones who may be “climbing up the wall” from boredom and running up the phone bill?
And on the other, how do we help the introverts who are drained by human interaction- starved extroverts who interrupt their deep thoughts and quiet conversations with themselves, and dreams of living a solitary life in a cabin in Alaska?
Said “Tony”, a self-proclaimed “flaming extrovert” to me the other day, “Terry, I feel trapped and have run out of things to around the house. It’s gotten so bad for me that I cut the grass in my front yard today and returned to cut that same yard four hours later.”
By contrast, here’s what “Regina,” a dye in the wool introvert shared. “Hey, prior to this pandemic, I cherished my quiet time in our small apartment when my extroverted hubby was out most of the day as a salesman. But now that he’s been told to stay home, he’s stifling me with his constant interruptions. As a writer, I’ve lost my ability to focus.”
Zoom, watch old movies, clean out the garage, take up a new hobby, get more exercise, etc., etc., etc. – the list of suggestions for what we can do while confined in the house is long and growing. Now unless I somehow missed the memo, I’ve yet to come across anything that helps introverts and extroverts to “peacefully co-exist” without getting on each other’s nerves. Have you?
Now if we are forced to remain between four walls with “the unfulfilled other” until this pandemic runs its course for who knows how long, more empathy, listening and shared sacrifices are absolute musts.
A tall order?
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, Black Market.com, The Douglas County Sentinel and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org